What to look for and discuss with your veterinary professional.
Help them enjoy their later years
Changes with aging do not always reflect an underlying medical problem. What do we mean when we say my dog is “just getting old?” Are those subtle changes in weight gain, lower activity or loss of muscle just signs of getting old?
The goal of healthy aging is to maintain mobility, vitality, cognition and quality of life and, to delay frailty, muscle loss and decreased activity. How to we positively impact the quality of life of our mature dogs to delay aging?
1. Attentive observation at home for any physical or cognitive changes
2. Regular veterinary evaluations for physical examination, bloodwork and imaging (if necessary)
3. Create a safe and enriching environment at home with non-slip surfaces
4. Be aware of the signs of aging
Changes in Behavior
Your veterinarian can develop a diagnostic plan to identify any underlying cause of the behavioral changes and recommend the ideal approach to maximize quality of life. The first step is to rule out an underlying medical condition and treatment with specific medications, as indicated. Other lifestyle strategies include developing a consistent routine with a variety of enrichment activities, lowering stress, choosing an appropriate diet and use of specific supplements.
Changes in Eating Habits
Sometimes, your dog just gets bored of being served the same food. However, it is known that the senses of smell and taste decline with age. Before you risk gastrointestinal upset by simply changing foods, consider trying the same food in a puzzle bowl. There are many options available. DIY versions include distributing kibble in an egg carton or placing kibble in a toilet paper roll with ends pinched together.
Your veterinarian can recommend a good quality senior diet which meets the specific metabolic needs of a senior dog or a prescription diet if needed for a specific medical condition. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association also has evidence-based nutritional resources for pet parents.
Changes in Muscle Mass
Muscle loss occurs with chronic diseases and some severe, acute diseases. It also occurs with aging and when it is, we call it sarcopenia. Sarcopenia affects your dog’s strength, immune function, wound healing and susceptibility to disease. The typical places where loss of muscle mass is seen in over the top of the head, the shoulder, the middle of the backbone and over the hips. It’s important to know that overweight dogs can still have muscle loss and skinny dogs can have normal muscle mass. To head off the loss of muscle mass, your veterinary professional team will measure your dog’s muscle condition score. It is graded as normal, mild, moderate or severe.
Changes in Activity
The most obvious change we see is usually related to orthopedic issues: stiffness getting up, a reluctance to go up steps, climb on furniture or refusal of a “long” walk which used to be easy.
Changes in Vision and Hearing
The lens of the eye thickens with age, causing vision challenges. Other diseases of the eye involving the lens or retina can also occur. Your veterinarian will determine if the changes in vision are related to aging or disease. With compromised vision, your dog may not adapt to change well and rely on memory and routine to navigate their world. Most will have difficulty with steps and low light conditions.
Hearing loss associated with age may cause your dog to startle when approached without a visual cue, especially when sleeping. This can appear as crankiness with people or other pets.
What you can do
Ask your veterinary professional about Leap Years® a two-part cellular health system which targets the underlying mechanisms of aging and the signs of aging earlyto ensure healthy aging.